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How to Install and Tune Nitrous Oxide Systems

How to Install and Tune Nitrous Oxide Systems

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How to Install and Tune Nitrous Oxide Systems

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Lançado em:
Jan 23, 2012


This book educates on the properties of nitrous oxide and the most effective way to design, install, and tune complete systems. A definite focus on safety and a need to answer the typical questions associated with the use of nitrous oxide is highlighted, and several complete installations are featured.
Lançado em:
Jan 23, 2012

Sobre o autor

Veteran automotive journalist Bob McClurg grew up in 1950s Southern California, where he was surrounded (and heavily influenced) by early hot rod culture. McClurg's photojournalism career spans 40 years, writing and shooting for the most influential magazines as well as authoring books for CarTech. His previous titles include Diggers, Funnies Gassers and Altereds; Yenko; Fire Nitro Rubber and Smoke; How to Build Supercharged and Turbocharged Small Block Fords; How to Install and Tune Nitrous Oxide Systems, The Tasca Ford Legacy, and more.

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How to Install and Tune Nitrous Oxide Systems - Bob McClurg


Wherever modern dentistry is practiced, the cryogenic gas known as nitrous oxide, composed of two parts nitrogen and one part oxygen (N2O), has functioned as a viable pain killer and sedative for more than 170 years. However, when English chemist Joseph Priestley published his discovery in 1775, the scientist referred to the inert gas as phlogistacated nitrous air, which he had created by heating iron filings dampened with nitric acid. N2O’s original use was anything but that of a medical nature.

Historically, nitrous oxide was first used around 1790 as a recreational drug by Englishman Humphrey Davy, who tested the substance on himself and friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. These gentlemen of leisure discovered, at informal social situations called laughing gas parties, that N2O not only dulled the sensation of pain, it also had a mirthful, albeit hallucinogenic, effect on those who inhaled it.

In the 1840s, nitrous oxide was introduced in America by medical researcher Gardner Quincy Colton. The substance was first commercially manufactured in this country by Trenton, New Jersey’s George Poe, inventor of the respirator and cousin to famed poet Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was the first to liquefy N2O by carefully heating ammonium nitrate, which decomposed into N2O and water vapor. Poe also discovered that the addition of various phosphates created a purer gas (like modern medical-grade nitrous oxide, for example) at lower brewing temperatures.

Dentist Horace Wells first used medical-grade nitrous oxide as a legitimate sedative because dentists, particularly in rural America, did not have access to an anesthesiologist. The gas enabled them to operate, yet maintain some form of communication with conscious patients. Today, medical N2O is a controlled substance and is monitored by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Nitrous Oxide’s Widespread Use

Nitrous oxide has been used to treat severe depression and anxiety in mental patients. It can also be found in a bag of potato chips! An N2O composition has been used as a propellant in aerosol spray cans like those used for cooking sprays, whipped cream, spray waxes, and bags of potato chips for years.

But this book is about boosting engine performance with industrial-grade nitrous oxide, or Nytrous Plus, which is the official trademarked name adopted in the mid 1980s by Nellore-Puritan-Bennett. The company, which has manufactured and marketed N2O since 1913, acted upon a suggestion made by Nitrous Oxide Systems co-founder Dale Vaznaian. Nytrous Plus differs significantly from medical N2O in that its composition features .01 percent sulfur-dioxide, which has been added to produce an unpleasant odor that prevents substance abuse.

A Genuine Power Adder

When used as a power adder, nitrous oxide can significantly enhance the performance potential of any internal combustion engine. However, N2O does not actually burn, and is not a graded fuel. In fact, N2O is inflammable. When injected as a compressed liquid at 127 degrees F, it allows an engine to burn more air/fuel by dramatically dropping intake charge temperature, resulting in a denser and more enhanced internal combustion. What is basically being done here is the creation of a more user-friendly and oxygen-enriched atmospheric condition inside the cylinders of an engine. Here are the characteristics of Nytrous Plus:

Industrial grade nitrous oxide or Nytrous Plus, which differs in purity from medical nitrous oxide, or High Purity N2O, is the official trademarked name adopted in the mid 1980s by Nellore-Puritan-Bennett. This company has been engaged in manufacturing nitrous oxide since 1913, acting upon a suggestion by NOS founder Dale Vaznaian. Instead of being 100-percent pure, Nytrous Plus’ chemical composition is 99.0-percent nitrous oxide and 0.01-percent sulpher dioxide, which was added to produce a foul odor, presumably to prevent potential substance abuse and death from asphyxiation.

•Molecular Weight: 44.02 g/mole

•Boiling/Condensation Point: 126.4 degrees F

•Melting/Freezing Point 131.8 degrees F

•Critical Temperature: 97.9 degrees F

•Vapor Pressure: 745 psig

•Vapor Density: 1.53 (Air = 1)

•Liquid Density at BP: 76.8 ft-lbs³

•Specific Volume: 8.6957

•Gas Density: .115 ft-lbs³

Hitler’s Luftwaffe took great advantage of N2O during World War II. Specifically intended to provide superior high-altitude performance with a quick getaway, N2O-equipped fighter planes like the Messerschmitt-produced ME-109 routinely used N2O. The Japanese Imperial Air Force kamikaze squadrons also used N2O as a last-minute accelerant during suicide attacks on American warships.

Over the years, N2O has also been tested as a rocket propellant, or an oxidizer in rocket engines. In 1914, American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard suggested the use of N2O and gasoline for a liquid-fueled rocket. Actual use of N2O with both solid fuel and liquid fuel/impulse rockets has been also used with great success. For example, the combination of N2O and hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene fuel was successfully used as a propellant in Spaceship One, which landed on the moon. Even amateur rocketeers use N2O today on home-made rocket experiments.

Nitrous Oxide Performance Pioneers

Historically, the first high-performance automotive aftermarket retailer to introduce nitrous oxide to the automotive sector was Ron Hammel. His company, 10,000 RPM Speed Equipment, began selling nitrous in 1962.

Hammel recalls, "After moving from Spokane, Washington, to Southern California around 1958, I had worked for a number of drag racing teams including Jack Chrisman’s Howard’s Cams Special, so I kind of knew what dragster racing was all about. Around 1962–1963, I had been experimenting with nitrous oxide, and installed a small system on a Pacific Northwestern-based Top Fuel car called the Top Hat Special. The car was a good running car [before the nitrous], but it was just an average running car. Anyhow, we set Low E.T. and Top MPH during qualifying at the Bakersfield Fuel & Gas Championships, so I figured that the startling increase in performance had to be attributed to the juice."

Energized by what had happened, Hammel went back to where he worked, Tony Capanna’s shop called Hot Rod City, and began doing development work on a series of 4-barrel-carbureted gasoline-burning engines. Then he began selling kits.

Hammel recounts, In 1969, when the astronauts went to the moon, I told everyone, [and thought] maybe now they’ll believe how good this stuff [nitrous oxide] really is! We did a lot of engine development (dyno) work, and learned about things like air/fuel ratio [AFR]. We learned how to set up an engine while lowering the exhaust temperature so that you didn’t burn the darned thing up. Our development work even included Diesel engines. Basically, we worked at it until we got it right!

Initially, 10,000 RPM’s N2O kits were based on mechanical throttle linkage systems. From about 1969 to the early 1980s we sold a lot of kits, says Hammel. Our first kits were all manually operated using the existing original equipment throttle linkage that came with the carburetor. We set up these mechanical systems to work at wide open throttle [WOT]. At WOT the system turned itself on. If you had anything less than WOT, the system turned itself back off.

However, the more 10,000 RPM became involved in the sale of nitrous kits, the more it found that various compromises, such as throttle kickdowns, were being made with the factory throttle linkage, so it became necessary to switch to electrically activated solenoids, which have now become an industry standard.

Arguably, the popularization of nitrous oxide as an automotive power adder would not have experienced such rapid growth and popularity had it not been for a couple of other factors: first, the resurgence of street racing in the 1970s, due in part to the closing of a number of popular drag strips across the country; and second, the overwhelming popularity of bracket racing and its various forms—Outlaw Street Car, Street Legal Drag, World’s Fastest Street Car Competition, etc. This type of competition became a viable alternative to costly NHRA-, AHRA-, and IHRA-class racing. Of course a direct spinoff the widely accepted popularity of nitrous oxide, or so-called Throttle in a Bottle, was the establishment of a number of new nitrous-oxide-systems manufacturing companies. One of them was Compucar Nitrous Oxide Systems, founded in the early 1970s by Ron Ractoff, and later purchased by Ernest Wrenn. Another key player was Nitrous Oxide Systems, or NOS as it is widely known, co-founded in 1978 by Southern California drag racers Mike Thermos and Dale Vaznaian.

Enthusiast Publication Support

The overwhelming acceptance of N2O also owes a great deal of its success as a viable yet affordable power adder to enthusiast publications like Hot Rod, Car Craft, Popular Hot Rodding, Super Chevy, Muscle Mustang & Fast Fords, Super Stock & Drag Illustrated, Cars, etc. Once discovered, magazine editors all across the country were singing N2O’s praises.

For example, Hot Rod magazine was one of the first enthusiast magazines to publish an in-depth article on N2O in July of 1981. Automotive techno-writer David Vizard penned the article Built to Stay Tough, Nitrous Small-Block Chevy Has Bottom End Punch and High-Speed Power.

Basing his engine build on a totally streetable, 350-ci four-bolt-main Chevrolet small-block, the main objective was to build an engine that averaged 25 mpg highway, and propel a 3,800-pound car down the quarter mile in the mid-11-second range. Vizard’s 10.5:1 compression small-block 350 test engine featured a set of .030-inch-overbore Sealed Power pistons, a set of Motor Machine-prepared 350 Chevrolet connecting rods, a .010 re-sized Chevrolet 350 crank, Federal Mogul engine bearings, a Competition Cams 268-H grind hydraulic cam, and a Chevy 350 truck timing chain. It also received a set of G&G Porting 186-casting Chevrolet cylinder heads featuring a high-flow/high-velocity intake port with 2.02-inch intake valves and 1.60-inch exhaust valves. A set of Sealed Power lifters, 1.6:1-ratio Comp Cams rocker arms, and 1.5-inch NASCAR-type Comp springs were also part of the combination. Induction was handled by an Edelbrock Victor Jr. 4-barrel manifold and a 730-cfm Internal Combustion Engines–prepared Holley 650 carburetor. It had a Melling oil pump and Cyclone headers; in other words, all over-the-counter internal components.

In Petersen Publishing Company’s July 1981 issue of Hot Rod magazine (today a Source Interlink publication), technical writer David Vizard conducted a three-way nitrous street engine shootout using an Internal Combustion Engines (I.C.E.) carbureted plate nitrous kit, an NOS carbureted plate kit, and a 10,000 RPM Speed Equipment–carbureted nitrous-plate-kit-equipped 350 small-block Chevrolet V-8 engine. Vizard also experimented with various-size carburetors, air cleaner stacks, and types of headers. NOS was the overall winner, producing 491 hp at 5,120 rpm and 562 ft-lbs of torque at 4,100 rpm on 92-octane pump gas. The high interest level created by this, the very first nitrous-oxide-kit shootout article published, popularized N2O, and its proponents quickly nicknamed the inert gas Throttle in a Bottle!

Nitrous Oxide Systems, Inc. (NOS), co-founded in the late 1970s by Mike Thermos and Dale Vaznaian popularized nitrous oxide for the street through an aggressive R&D program, which covers all makes and models of carbureted cars. That research eventually led to the first electronic fuel injection (EFI) kits for the modern-era small-block Ford EFI and Chevrolet TPI engines.

It is very interesting that Vizard tested not one, but a total of three different N2O systems: a Nitrous Oxide Systems 1-inch 4-barrel carburetor plate kit, an Internal Combustion Engines (I.C.E.) Spray-Bar 1-inch spacer plate 4-barrel carburetor kit, and a 10,000 RPM 1-inch-spacer Stage II 4-barrel carburetor plate kit, tested using a Superflow 800 computerized chassis dyno.

After a series of dyno pulls testing different rocker arm ratios, air filters, and exhaust headers, Vizard and company were able to realize 376 hp and 404 ft-lbs on the engine alone (naturally aspirated).

With 92-octane fuel in the tank and 34 to 36 degrees of total timing advance, the Nitrous Oxide Systems kit proved to be the winner, producing 491 hp at 5,150 rpm and 562 ft-lbs at 4,100 rpm.

Still not through, Vizard and company substituted 102-octane So-Cal Orange race gas, re-set the timing at 39 to 40 degrees, and un-corked the headers in their test Camaro Z-28. Then they recorded 414 hp at 5,500 rpm and 412 ft-lbs on the engine, and 529 hp at 5,500 rpm with 570 ft-lbs at 4,000 rpm on the squeeze!

"That [Hot Rod] article was the first magazine article we ever did, says former NOS CEO Mike Thermos, and it really put us on the map! I remember we built our first kit—a Holley 4-barrel, small-block Chevrolet application, using stuff out of hardware stores and hobby shops. However, once we got everything sourced out, things started going really well for us. Then the magazines got involved with our company, and that took us to the next level. We began advertising and that’s when Nitrous Oxide Systems’ business really took off!"

The key to Nitrous Oxide Systems’ success is likely that the company has never rested on its laurels. The company has consistently refined its kits in an attempt to offer the best equipment on the market at an affordable price. NOS was one of the first aftermarket companies to develop N2O street kits for EFI applications, beginning with the 5.0/5.8L Ford EFI small-blocks, and TPI-, LT1-, and LS-Series 350 small-block Chevrolet powerplants.

Nitrous certainly has a home on the street, says Thermos. That is where it was founded, and it offers a viable performance advantage over costly and sometimes illegal engine modifications. Of course, these days, modern electronics are certainly making things more and more involved, and the industry has to keep up with those trends or fall behind!

Acquired in 1999 by Holley Performance Products, Inc., Nitrous Oxide Systems continues to be a recognized leader in the nitrous oxide industry, along with companies like Applied Nitrous Technologies, Compucar Nitrous Oxide Systems, Edelbrock Nitrous Systems, Induction Solutions, NANO Nitrogen Assisted Nitrous Oxide, Nitrous Express, Inc., Nitrous Outlet, Nitrous Supply (Thermos’ newest venture), Wilson Pro Flow Nitrous, ZEX Nitrous Products, and numerous others. The result is a thriving and competitive nitrous oxide industry.



When describing the obvious performance benefits from using nitrous oxide, substantial horsepower increases (from 50 to 350) are possible on your average small- or big-block Chevrolet, Ford, or Mopar V-8 engine, when equipped with a single-stage street/strip N2O kit using a standard-flange Holley, Ford Motorcraft, or Autolite single 4-barrel carburetor; a dominator-flange-design Holley; or a spread-bore-design Carter Thermo-Quad, Rochester, or Edelbrock single 4-barrel carburetor. However, no matter what type or brand of carburetor used, it is vitally important to the overall performance of the system that you start with a good one; adding nitrous only compounds existing problems. Sticking floats, lazy power valves, partially clogged jets, and/or fuel metering rods that are in poor condition can result in sloppy throttle response, backfires, or more costly and permanent engine damage.

Carburetor size also matters. A carburetor that is too large runs rich at idle and lean at wide open throttle (WOT). If in doubt, contact any of the leading N2O kit manufacturers’ technical hot lines. They can assist you in selecting the right N2O kit and recommend the right carburetor for the application.

Purchasing a factory blueprinted carburetor from either Holley Performance Products or Edelbrock Corporation not only provides peace of mind, it’s also a viable alternative to costly rebuilds. Ordering a ready-to-install carburetor from a specialty shop, such as The Carburetor Shop, Braswell Carburetion, or Quick Fuel Technology (just to name three) is another choice.

This diagram from Nitrous Oxide Systems, Inc., a division of Holley Performance Products, Inc., does a great job of showing the components used in the construction of a single-stage single-plate N2O system and its installation on your average American-manufactured small-block or big-block V-8 engine. (Photo Courtesy Nitrous Oxide Systems, Inc.)

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  • (5/5)
    Easy to read and follow directions. Photos detailed and helpful. I learned a great deal about Nitrous oxide systems, but I didn't know anything prior to reading the book. My nephew has installed NOS before and read the book several times. He said that each time he read it he found new information that was helpful. We both recommend this book to both the beginner and experienced mechanic.
  • (5/5)
    Very descriptive and easy to follow directions and detailed photographs.
  • (5/5)
    The photography is excellent & the history on the use of nitrous oxide at the beginning of the book was of great interest to me. The book was very insightful into the use of nitrous oxide powered vehicles. The book is not too technical & makes it easy for any back yard mechanic to be capable of installing nitrous oxide on a vehicle & actually have it work.